Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Sinking In

The full measure of the Pelosi-Obama 220-215 “victory” Saturday night, passing their health care reform bill, H.R. 3962 with all but one Republican and thirty-nine Democrats voting against, is finally sinking in.

Out maneuvered, the Pelosiite leadership allowed right-wing Democrats to turn the measure into significant anti-abortion legislation. If the victorious Stupak Amendment or some functional equivalent makes its way into the final bill, it will effectively prohibit private insurers participating in government organized “insurance pools” from offering funding for abortion services. This would be a major step backward from the long established and already horrendously backward Hyde Amendment, which prohibits federal money from going directly to pay for abortions or related services.

As bad or worse, the House legislation, with its weak “public option” and mandated insurance coverage would provide a bonanza to the insurance industry, and also to Big Pharma, which could continue to sell its wares domestically at extortionist prices. A truly “robust” public option, available to everyone (or nearly everyone) would provide a way for America eventually to back into the mid-twentieth century – into a world in which health care is a right, not a commodity. So would the Kucinich Amendment, which would allow states to establish their own single-payer systems without fear of being put in legal jeopardy by rapacious private insurers. The Kucinich Amendment passed in committee; but, along with a robust public option, it is not included in H.R. 3962. Thus, as matters stand, the Pelosi-Obama “reforms” would further entrench the existing indefensible and failed system.

Who is at fault? Throughout the process, the so-called “stakeholders,” the profiteers, have acted predictably; their involvement has been deplorable, but it was only to be expected. It was also clear from the outset that the Pelosiite leadership and our pathologically “bipartisan” President would end up giving away the ranch. Their role has been deplorable too, but they too are only acting out their “moderate” natures -- which render them incapable of not groveling before power. Thus the blame lies with the so-called progressives. Whether out of pusillanimity, incompetence or just because they wanted to win won for the Gipper – not Reagan this time, but the New Gipper, the agent of “change,” Barack Obama – they won one for the religious Right (and the Catholic bishops) and for the insurance companies.

I have argued in countless entries that most of the self-identified progressives in the Progressive Caucus are hardly progressive at all by any reasonable standard; and that even the best of them are, for the most part, feckless. They are unwilling or unable to leverage their power in the way that, for example, Newt Gingrich’s minions did in 1994, when they executed their “contract” on America. Over eighty House members were on record as supporters of a single-payer system. As it turns out, had just a few of them organized themselves with a modicum of skill and resolution, they could have blocked the worst features of H.R. 3962 by threatening not to support the bill. They didn’t even try.

Dennis Kucinich was the sole exception – but his No vote was too little, too late. It was essentially a feel good vote, though I wonder how well he can feel voting in the same way as Republicans and Blue Dog Democrats. Still, I sympathize: I too almost always vote “expressively” -- against not for someone because there is seldom anyone to vote for. But I realize, as should Kucinich, that these gestures are largely pointless.

The sheer impotence of progressive Democrats is staggering. Suppose, for example, that, after a wave of gun violence, popular opinion turned against the Second Amendment fetishism that does so much harm to our public safety; or that, after ever more blatant Israeli atrocities, public opinion turned against continuing to provide Israel with the blank check it is now given automatically. Suppose, in consequence, that a few less than usually pusillanimous Democrats were inclining towards doing the right thing. Then imagine how the NRA or AIPAC would yank on their chains. How different it is with the Progressive Caucus and its single-payer advocates!

To be sure, H.R. 3962 does include some worthwhile insurance reforms. If progressives continue to be unwilling or unable to make the bill better, then they should think about passing the insurance reforms on their own, and scuttling the rest – especially the assault on abortion rights and the solidification of the power of health care profiteers. Then true progressives can continue the struggle for genuine health care reform. But then too,unless his spin-doctors do an A+ job, it might look like a loss for the Gipper. Would that be a bad thing -- especially now, when Obama is on the brink of escalating the long failed wars he was elected to stop? I’m conflicted on that if only because I want our first African-American president to “succeed.” But one thing is clear: were Obama to continue along his present path, he certainly will “fail” and, even more certainly, he’ll deserve it.

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